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Best of John Robison

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Slot machine malfunctions

6 December 2010

Occasionally there are reports of casinos using the weasel clause ("machine malfunction voids play") in the subject to avoid paying a jackpot when a machine displays a winner but fails to report it to Mission Control. Have you ever heard of the reverse happening, where the machine displayed a loser (and so the player kept on playing) but reported a winner? If so, was the weasel clause invoked again, or was the player contacted and paid?

I don't like the implications of your calling the disclaimer "the weasel clause." It gives the impression that casinos routinely deny players jackpots by invoking the disclaimer.

The media does not help to dispel this notion. I've been interviewed for a number of denied jackpot stories, and they all end with a statement similar to: "Gambler beware. You never know when a jackpot will display on your machine and the casino will refuse to pay you." Never mind the thousands upon thousands of jackpots the casino pays each year.

The denied jackpot incidents I'm familiar with all involved an obvious malfunction on the machine. Two examples:

  1. The machine was not in game mode, but test mode. The player knew something was not right because every time she pressed the spin button, 10 coins came out of the hopper (the machine was in Hopper Test mode). She got a bucketful of quarters out of the machine before accidentally hitting the button that put the machine in Paytable Test mode. The next time she hit the spin button, the reels spun to the Quartermania jackpot combination, the combination displayed by the first press of the spin button in Paytable Test mode.
  2. The man was playing a nickel video machine with a top jackpot of 50,000 coins. The screen went black, then came back, displayed strange messages or symbols, and eventually displayed, "You have won $1,000,000." Clearly, something is wrong because you can't win that much money on this machine.

I hope you agree with me that the players did not earn jackpots in either of these incidents. If the casino pays them a PR (public relations) jackpot because a machine malfunctioned, it does so to try to make a bad situation a little better. Not because they now believe that the jackpot was legitimate.

Turning to your question, I've never heard that the situation happened. If the RNG selected a winning combination, regardless of what is displayed on the screen or reels, the machine would add the value of the combination to the player's credit meter. The machine should detect (at least on a reel-spinning machine) that the reels are not in the right places and go into a tilt mode.

If the amount requires IRS paperwork, the machine will lock and the floorperson will see the discrepancy between the reels or screen and the RNG during the normal jackpot checks. The casino could return the bet and not pay the jackpot because the machine malfunctioned, but because the RNG record says a jackpot was legitimately won, I think it's likely that the casino will pay the jackpot -- and then put the machine out of order to be inspected and repaired.

Do you see the difference? In the last example, the jackpot was won legitimately. It's part of the math of the game. In my denied jackpot examples, the jackpots were not won as the result of a game on the machine, so they're not part of the math.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots